A Colorful Question!

The 1900 theater, 2017.


And its “lost” neon sign.


Carved into stone above the main entrance of the building is 1900 AUDITORIUM. But the building, also known as the Opera House, was later converted into a movie house, and renamed the Uptown (in, it seems, the 1930s).

A neon sign was installed and for many decades its magically lighted presence beckoned moviegoers. Then, and nobody recalls when, the neon was damaged and the sign went dark.

About fifteen years ago the sign was removed and today it sits in storage.

However, wondrous plans are afoot!

Soon, the sign will be removed from storage so it can be repaired and painted. Then, it will be taken to Coffelt Signs in Emporia to have new neon tubes created! Once this work is completed, the newly restored sign will be returned to the 1900 Theater and will once again be a magically lighted presence in the night!

However, an unanswered question remains: What colors should the sign be? It was black and red. But was it always black and red? And what color gas was in the neon tubing?

What colors do you think it should be? Let us know!


Post by Ross, blogmaster.



  1. Jarrett L. on September 12, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Black and red seems quite spooky. Maybe a lighter color, I quite like the orange and blue of the logo at the top. What do you think?

  2. Dave on September 12, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    It definitely needs to have an art deco look. I can imaging the old “CINEMA” and “THEATER” signs of the 1920’s as a good example. Google “art deco movie theater neon sign” and click on images. That would be a good start. I found a lot of cool examples.

    You could always go red, white and blue….those colors are best on neon I think. Budweiser signs always look cool with the red and blue. Red, yellow and blue also look great in neon.

    Orange and blue neon as Jarrett suggested would look good too.

    If sticking with the original color of red and black painted background, I’d go with red or white neon letters and blue neon trim around the entire sign.

    The more color the better though!

    • Ross on September 14, 2017 at 12:47 am

      Hi, Dave!

      We do not know what the original colors of the sign were.

      When the sign was taken down the colors were black and red. Maybe these were the original colors. Maybe not!

  3. Sandra Lee on September 13, 2017 at 6:04 am

    Neon best w extra colors & look at Art Deco examples & early movie house signs as Dave suggested 🙂

  4. Barb Sanford on September 13, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Looks like red and black are the junior/senior high school colors. Maybe that’s why it was red and black — it would already be a popular color scheme with the locals.

    Questions: What colors are used in the interior design? Do you want to tie the sign to them? Not in a “matchy-matchy” way, but more as a lure to enter and an introduction to what’s ahead?

  5. Jesse on September 13, 2017 at 8:13 am

    Always wondered about the history of that building… original colors for sure! Maybe white neon with the black and red sign, would match Bulldog colors.

    • Mike on September 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Strong City High School were not “Bulldogs”, they were the “Indians” and (if memory serves) their colors were black and gold.

  6. Mike on September 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Most of the old neon signs I have seen have had tubes that glowed the same color as the background painted letters; some exceptions were when the letters were white. Assuming that an accurate restoration is what you want, I’d go with the original paint colors, and red neon tubes.

  7. Dave on September 14, 2017 at 12:20 am

    Now that I think of it, staying original on everything in this theater is probably the way to go. I agree that the original Red and Black background has an extra benefit of being the Bulldog colors. I’d say go with red neon to light up the red letters in the background. If putting a trim color around the outer edges of the sign, I’d still vote for a bright blue though.

    Has there been any planning around putting neon elsewhere on the front of the building other than the sign?

    Neon around the edges of the windows, doors, around “Coming Attraction” posters and around the roof line and silhouette of the building corners and on the hand railing going up the stairs would all look cool. Around the silhouette of the stairwell would also look cool. Has there been any thought about putting up can lights above future “Coming Attractions” signs on the front too? Or lights on the ground that point up to highlight “Coming Attractions” posters?

    Long term, what are the plans for seats? Are you thinking of going with the soft, velvet, plush, red seats or the wooden seats?

    • Ross on September 14, 2017 at 12:53 am

      Hi again, Dave,

      As mentioned above, we have no confirmation as to the original colors of the sign. Just because it was red/black when it was taken down does not automatically mean it was red/black originally.

      There are no plans to add neon to the building.

      And we are several years from deciding about seats!

  8. Dave on September 14, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Can we ask the city to put in a new sidewalk in front of the building???

    That thing is torn up!

    • Ross on September 14, 2017 at 12:56 am

      Yes, a new sidewalk and curb will likely be done at some point!

  9. Dave on September 14, 2017 at 12:30 am

    ….and curb?

  10. Dave on September 22, 2017 at 9:57 pm


    Strong City was the Indians like “50 years ago”. 😉 [Ross: But the neon sign is well over fifty-years-old.]

    The Red and Black bulldog is the mascot associated with the high school now. [Ross: see my comment above.]

    What do you guys think about putting up a lighted marquee below the neon sign? It would be good for listing upcoming events, shows or movies.

    For the neon original sign, if there was any black on it, it might be too dark and not show up. I think it would be smart to leave all black paint off of the sign. At night, it wouldn’t show up. I’d say go with red and white paint, neon in red or blue or even orange and blue. Maybe you could do a thin black outline around the letters, but I think any black should be minimal.

    I did a quick search of Google for “art deco movie theater neon sign”. I found some good examples, linked below. Most of them have a lighted marquee. That one that says “MAJESTIC” is very similar to the Uptown Theater sign in design. The ROGUE theater looks cool and similar to the Uptown as well. I think we should model the Uptown Theater sign to that style. Use red background and white letters. Then put whatever color neon over the white letters. I think blue neon looks better than any other color personally. Orange or red looks good in neon too.

    Here are the Google images I found that are all cool looking art deco style neon movie theater signs. You might have to cut and paste them to your browser if this website doesn’t automatically link to their addresses:







  11. Dave on September 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I had some extra time yesterday and mocked up some images of what the neon sign might look like.
    Which do you guys like best?
    This isn’t a professional mock up by any means. I just created them with a basic photo editing program.
    I made several options with the colors people have mentioned with the original black and red paint color and with the options of red neon, white neon, blue and red neon, etc…
    Personally, I think the red and black original paint with red neon for “UPTOWN” and white for “THEATRE” with the red and blue neon around the edges of the sign looks the best of all of the options. I also like the one that adds “CINEMA” and “OPERA HOUSE” to the sign.
    I can do more of these in different colors if anyone has other specific ideas. Hopefully all these images show up on here.
    There are 2 images of what it looks like with the paint only, before the neon is added. Those are just so we can see what it will look like before we add the neon. Those aren’t the finished sign with all the neon added.
    I also created images of the sign on the front of the building so we can see how it would look on the building. 🙂

    I think adding small white letters that say “CINEMA” & “OPERA HOUSE” to the sign look cool. What do you guys think? There may not be enough room on the sign. Maybe CINEMA and OPERA HOUSE could be added on a new bracket on the sign or on a new sign below this one? A marquee could also be added below this sign. Then you could list upcoming events, movies, etc… Maybe CINEMA and OPERA HOUSE could be added on a marquee? I didn’t have time to mock up a potential marquee. Maybe if I am bored I could do that later. Anyway, take or leave these. I just had some time yesterday and created these for my own curiosity of what the sign might look like…. See images below….

    Painted Black with All Red Letters –Before Neon is added

    Painted Black with Red & White Letters – Before Neon is added

    Painted with Red Background – White Neon Letters

    Painted Red background, red neon letters

    Painted Red background, red neon letters with “Cinema” and “Opera House” neon lettering added

    Red background, red neon letters, red and blue trim

    Red background, white neon letters, red and blue trim

    Red background, red neon letters, red, blue and yellow trim

    Red letters, white neon with CINEMA and OPERA HOUSE letter on the building

    Red background, red neon letters (no cinema or opera house) on the building

    Red background, white neon letters, red and blue trim neon on the building

    Red background, red neon letters, red and blue trim neon on the building

    Red background, red neon letters, red, blue & yellow trim neon on the building

  12. Dave on September 27, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Have you guys selected a neon sign company to restore the sign yet? I know Luminous Neon is considered the best sign restoration and neon company in Kansas. They’re one of the few places in the area that still does neon. They do the painting and neon and all other restoration steps all at their site. They have locations in several locations in the state.
    If you want, I could email them the info about the sign and ask if they can do a mock up sketch of what they would recommend for the sign. They do that for free. They give you professional mock up sketches of color options as well. They also give quotes for free.

    • Ross on September 27, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Hi, Dave!

      We have been talking with Coffelt Sign in Emporia.

      • Dave on September 28, 2017 at 2:13 am

        OK, should I email them for a 2nd opinion in case they give a better price or have better color suggestions?
        They do it for free, so it can’t hurt.

  13. Rachel Creager Ireland on September 29, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Have you looked for deeper layers of paint under the black and red?

    Remembering how I had a friend who did carousel horse restoration. She would remove paint in layers, to see what the various incarnations looked like.

    But no doubt you’re familiar with this kind of approach.

    • Ross on September 30, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Hi, Rachel!

      The sign was stripped of paint about a decade ago, and then given a primer coat.

      All we have to work with is one old photo showing it red and black, but there is no way to know if those were the original colors.

  14. Dave on September 30, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    On this site, how can I paste the images in my message so that they show up on here?
    I originally tried but it didn’t work. Normally you use the [IMG] header before and after the link to make them show up on a message board. It would be better if the images showed up on here so people wouldn’t have to click on a dozen links to see the mock ups I created.

    • Ross on September 30, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      No, one cannot paste images directly into a comment. I know of no blog where this is possible, although Disqus does allow this.

  15. Dave on September 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Has Coffelt Signs sent any sketches of what their finished sign would look like with neon if they were the ones to restore it?
    Did they suggest any neon colors that would be their recommendation?

    • Ross on September 30, 2017 at 7:41 pm

      We have been talking with Coffelt. The coloring of the sign will be determined by the Alliance board. We will perhaps go with what the sign was: Red neon on red letters and with a black background.

  16. Linda on October 4, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Ross, here you are, another blog. This building really looks interesting. I don’t know anything about this stuff but the idea of red, white and blue for the sign sound better to me than red and black.

  17. Dave on October 7, 2017 at 3:43 am

    I asked Luminous Neon what they’d recommend doing for the sign.
    If nothing else, it will give us some ideas for Coffelt to do if they end up being the company chosen to restore the sign. They emailed me a couple sketches for how they’d recommend doing the sign. They also said they’d email me a price for what they’d charge to do it. If nothing else, it will give you an idea if Coffelt is charging a fair price. They created these 2 sketches for the sign. See image links below.
    They are both with gloss black painted background and red painted letters on the sign. They have red neon for UPTOWN. They suggested painting the scalloping on the top and bottom of the sign a gold color with black trim. They said green neon and clear red neon were very popular in the early days of neon when the theatre was built. That’s how the sign would have originally looked they said. The neon tubes in these sketches are 1/2 inch tubes. That’s what they recommended.
    One sketch uses a single tube clear red neon for the UPTOWN letters. The other uses double tubes (or outline neon) for the UPTOWN letters with some green accent neon on the outer right and left of the sign. I think the double tubes, (outline neon) looks WAY better than the single tube neon. Each sketch shows what the sign would look like during the day and at night.
    They said the THEATRE letters at the bottom of the sign are too small for standard neon. They said they have some thinner 8mm neon tubes that they could use for “THEATRE”. They suggested using white paint and white neon on the THEATRE letters if you went with that option. They said they would send me those sketches for the white “THEATRE” option in a couple days. I will post them on here when I get them along with their price for each option.
    Like I said, if nothing else, it gives an idea for Coffelt and it lets you know if they are giving a fair price.
    I think the green neon trim on the right and left outer sides of the sign add a lot to it. And apparently that is what would have been used in the era when the sign and theatre were new.

    Clear red double tube or outline neon for the UPTOWN letters with green accent neon on the left and right of the sign:

    Clear red single tube neon for the UPTOWN letters with no green neon accent:

  18. Dave on October 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hey guys,
    I received the sketch for the finished sign design from Luminous Neon. Like I said before, if nothing else it will give us something to have Coffelt Sign to create. I think this looks better than any color ideas I posted before. It has the black background, red painted letters with 1/2 inch clear red double tube, outline neon for UPTOWN and white painted letters and white single tube 8mm white neon letters for THEATRE. There is period correct green neon accents on the left and right outer edges of the sign. The scalloping on the top and bottom are painted gold with black frill accents. Everything is how they would have done it in the time period when the sign was new. I don’t think it could look better. This would be my vote for the final design. The green accents add a lot but aren’t too much. The thin white neon looks better for the THEATRE letters. The double tube neon looks better for the UPTOWN letters than single tube. What do you guys think? See picture link below.

    • Ross on October 10, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      Hi Dave,

      While I understand that Luminous Neon is doing all this work free to you, it is not free to them. Somebody is spending time and energy to develop these many proposals.

      We have been working with Coffelt in Emporia and our plan at present is to proceed working with them.

      Also, the sign is circa-1940. The gold scrollwork which Luminous Neon suggested is not period correct for a 1940s sign. More 1890s!

      Our instinct is to recreate what the sign looked like when it was taken down, as seen in the image above.

  19. Dave on October 10, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Yeah, it’s all good. Luminous Neon didn’t mind doing the sketch. It’s what they do.
    If nothing else, it is a good sketch to go by for Coffelt to use (minus the gold trim that you didn’t like).
    Just use everything but the gold trim. (If everybody like that general design)
    It looks like the scalloping was originally black. Just go with that if you don’t think the gold is period correct.

    That design with red black and white paint and red, white and green trim neon gets my vote (minus the gold trim).
    I think the double neon on UPTOWN and white thin neon on THEATRE with the green accents looks awesome.
    You have a lot of expertise in antiques and things like that Ross. So I’m glad you corrected the fact that the gold was the wrong period. You’re the expert in that stuff.

  20. Dave on October 10, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Yeah, the gold might look a bit too “Old West” now that you mention it Ross.
    I agree. Leave that off.

    I did an amateur edit and removed the gold. See the gold free sign here.
    Does everyone like it?

  21. Dave on October 13, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    FYI: The guy at Luminous Neon sent me their quote today.
    How much of a budget do we have? How much have you allotted for the sign?
    What is Coffelt’s quote?

    For Luminous Neon, they gave many quotes for different options, depending on what you want them to do.
    They gave several quotes, depending on whether you want them to paint and fully restore it or just add neon.
    The double outline tubes are different price than single, tubes, etc…
    Their quotes are for clear red neon on the UPTOWN and thin white single tubes for THEATRE and green accent neon on the outside.

    Fully Refurbish sign with paint and red outline double tube neon for UPTOWN and thin single tube white neon for THEATRE with green accent neon on the outer right and left of sign – $11,284.00 – Neon only no paint $9,333.00 – (I think this is the design we all liked best! It’s my vote.)

    Refurbish sign with paint and red outline neon on UPTOWN, no neon on THEATRE – $10,015.00 – Neon only, no paint $8,064.00

    Refurbish sign with paint and single tube red neon for UPTOWN, no neon on THEATRE – $9,150.00 – Neon only, no paint $7,199.00

    The guy did say that even if we don’t have them paint it, that for a sign like this it needs to be professionally painted. Amateur paint will fade and chip in 2-4 years he said. It will be exposed to weather 24×7.

    • Ross on October 13, 2017 at 6:29 pm


      I wrote the following previously:

      While I understand that Luminous Neon is doing all this work free to you, it is not free to them. Somebody is spending time and energy to develop these many proposals.

      We have been working with Coffelt in Emporia and our plan at present is to proceed working with them.

      I am also baffled why you are doing all this. The Preservation Alliance has been duly working on getting the sign restored, and we hope that it will be reinstalled in 2018. This information has been mentioned repeatedly on this blog. We even have plans for a dramatic unveiling!

      In short, the restoration of the sign is moving ahead smoothly.

  22. Dave on October 13, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I’m doing this because I am trying to help. You said you were having trouble getting people in Chase County to volunteer to help with stuff.
    It’s not like you have to use Luminous Neon. It’s good to get a 2nd opinion though. I’m just trying to be nice and offer some assistance.
    Like I wrote previously….If nothing else, it will give you an idea of whether or not Coffelt is charging a fair price and it will give you some design ideas to take to them. You asked for people’s suggestions on colors .”A COLORFUL QUESTION…” With my own time and with the help of Luminous Neon I gave you several color suggestions and sketches so people could see what it would look like and I arranged for a price from a competitor. Now you know if Coffelt is high or low on their quote and if their design quality is as good as what another company would do.
    I’m not worried about someone spending their time mocking up an estimate. That’s what they do.
    What price did Coffelt quote for the sign? How much money has been allotted for the sign restoration?

    And…I’m just trying to help. A simple thank you would suffice. 😉

    • Ross on October 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm


      The Strong City Preservation Alliance is always thrilled when anybody is willing to volunteer and really jump into a project.

      But, it is vital that a volunteer work with the board rather than act as a free agent. You have been doing the latter, and have been spending time/effort on things we did not ask you to pursue, things which actually duplicate efforts already expended by board members, and/or are contrary to our plans.

      I cannot speak for the whole board of the Preservation Alliance so will simply offer my views as follows.

      I hope that my impression is incorrect, but your numerous suggestions convey criticism of the board. Why aren’t we doing X? Why haven’t we pursued Y? My response to this implied criticism is to feel protective on the board’s behalf as I know that the board embodies an enormous amount of talent and experience and dedication. The entire board is volunteering their effort.

      Again, I hope that my impressions are incorrect.

      • Dave on October 16, 2017 at 3:06 am

        Yeah, I agree with Rachel. A second estimate isn’t a bad idea. And now we have one.
        If nothing else, it will let you know if Coffelt is charging a fair price and if their sketches are what everybody in the county likes, color and style wise. Luminous Neon probably suggested a few style and color suggestions that Coffelt didn’t mention. For example, I personally really liked their suggestion of double tube/outline neon with green neon accents. I also liked their idea of using the thin 8mm white neon for the THEATRE lettering.

        From what (our FRIENDS) Ross and Rachel say, it sounds like Coffelt does a good job. (I’m glad you guys got back together in the final season by the way.) wink! 😉

  23. Rachel Creager Ireland on October 15, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    A second estimate might not be a bad idea, but I’ll put in a word for Coffelt. I’ve known the family for about 35 years and have done business with them. They gave us a good sign for a good price and are also available to come to Chase County for maintenance if necessary. I have no reservations working with them.

    • Ross on October 15, 2017 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you, Rachel!

      Justin and I have been working with Coffelt and we are also highly impressed. Their estimate for restoring the sign was quite reasonable. We hope to have a formal estimate to present at the board meeting this week!

      See ya’ tomorrow!

      • Dave on November 22, 2017 at 10:36 pm

        …how much was their estimate for restoring the sign?

        …how much grant money was given to restore the sign? I don’t think I ever heard a price for restoration or how much the budget for the sign was.

        A few of us were curious about that.

  24. Sandra Lee on October 16, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Love the blog & love the ideas everybody has! I am so excited about the Alliance & the 1900 theater restoration! This is so fun. Thanks Ross for being blogmaster. It sound like the Board is on target with upcoming plans!!!!! Yay Ross Restoration King!!!

  25. Dave on November 22, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    How’s the sign coming? Any new pics of the paint on the sign or any of the metal restoration?
    Has the neon been added at all yet?

    When is the unveiling event tentatively set? Have you set on a date?
    Is it going to be unveiled and lit in concurrence with any other events such as the holidays or rodeo weekend when more alumni are in town?

    I don’t think I’ve heard any detailed info with regards to a date for the lighting of the sign.
    If the sign was done now, a good time to do it would be when the city lights up their Christmas lights.
    Do the twin cities still light up the streets after Thanksgiving??

    Are they lighting the courthouse and main streets during the country Christmas buckaroo hoe-down thing this weekend?? 🙂

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